Granard native reflects on his ancestors time spent fighting for the Allies in World War One

Lena, Ned and Tommy Stokes. Photo: Shelley Corcoran
The family of five Irish soldiers who fought for the Allies in World War One have issued a plea to Taoiseach Enda Kenny to ensure all records of the war dead are properly documented.

The family of five Irish soldiers who fought for the Allies in World War One have issued a plea to Taoiseach Enda Kenny to ensure all records of the war dead are properly documented.

Granard man, Ned Stokes was not even born when his father, Mick and four of his uncles enlisted for the British Army during what later became known as The Great War (1914-1918).

Three of those including his father were married with eight children between them, while the two remaining brothers, Martin and Willie were still in their mid to late teens.

“Martin, the youngest, was supposed to stay at home and look after things there,” said Ned as he recalled the many tales of hardship his father told upon his return from battle.

It’s also the first time Ned has spoken openly about his family’s experiences, something he hopes will become more straightforward in time.

Sat perched against a snug sofa inside Granard’s Greville Arms Hotel, the impression the affable 78-year-old gives off is one of immense pride.

Accomponied by his daughter Lena and son-in-law, Tommy, Ned calmly points in the direction of a worn bullet holder and medals, relics of a time history is still coming to terms with.

And it’s that specific turn of phrase he now, more than ever, wants to uphold.

“You would think after 100 years, there would be some correspondence, anything,” he forlornly put it.

Tragically, Johnny and Martin, like millions of others were killed in action, leaving Mick, Pat and Johnny to return home destitute and emotionally scarred.

“Those brothers that were so close before the war were never the same again. They never received any compensation for the hardship they experienced or their brothers’ loss of life,” said Ned.

Earlier this month a new digital directory, charting the records of nearly 50,000 Irish soldiers, was released online.

Ned’s father, Mick and uncle Martin are among that lengthy list, but Johnny, Willie and Pat have so far failed to feature.

Not surprisingly, it’s an oversight Ned and his family want to see rectified.

“It’s not right,” he confided, in between taking a lengthy sip of tea.

“Thousands (of soldiers) lost their lives at that time and in my opinion they should never have been sent there at all.”

“I believe it was a combination of bravery and ignorance by many. They were led to believe that winning this war would somehow benefit Ireland.”

There were few, if any benefits however. Europe was effectively redrawn and the League of Nations was formed ,aimed at preventing a return to fighting.

Ultimately that failed, as did the relationship between the three brothers.

“When they came home, they just seperated,” sighed Ned.

“Pat and Willie went to Ennis, Co Clare but my father stayed in Longford. There was very little communication between them after that.”

Upsetting as it may have been, even more heartbreaking for Ned was the lasting impact the fallout had on his father.

“He suffered badly from shellshock and flashbacks. My father did tell stories about what he had seen, the conditions they were exposed to and the terrible things they witnessed.

Besides seeing some of their closest comrades perish, the concern of perhaps never returning home to Longford was a particular worry for the Stokes quintet.

Equally distressing, according to Ned, was the misery experienced by those closest to war survivors like Mick Stokes.

“When he came back, my father was a changed man,” said Ned, who was just seven when the former Connaght Rangers Private passed away.

Now, and as debate over Ireland’s Great War dead rumbles on, all Ned wants is to see the records of his remaining three uncles published online.

“Surely, it’s not too much to ask,” he added.

Whether Ned gets that assistance, only time will tell.